Date released
09 October 2023

There is a growing focus on the commercial production of sheep and goats in the Pacific nations of Fiji and Samoa, where ACIAR-supported research is helping smallholders improve the productivity and profitability of their flocks and herds.

Both countries have developed their own national sheep breed, the Fiji Fantastic and the Mamoe Samoa, which offer the potential to establish locally branded meat as an agritourism product. Target premium markets include hotel chains, restaurants, catering services and supermarkets.

In addition to sheep, Fiji also has commercial goat herds, with goat meat popular among the country’s Indian and Muslim populations.

Production issues are similar for both sheep and goats, and research activities with smallholder farmers are focusing primarily on improving survival and growth rates for young animals.

The University of New England is leading this work in partnership with the governments of Fiji and Samoa, with livestock scientist Dr Tiago Silva based in Fiji as the project coordinator.

A key driver of this project is a desire by the Fijian and Samoan governments to replace low-quality, often high-fat, imported sheep meat with higher-quality, locally produced meat.

‘Imports make up 90% of sheep meat consumed and there is an existing high demand that local producers can supply, achieving prices comparable to imported meats,’ said Dr Silva.

Record of progress

Small flock of sheep grazing in a paddock eating from a bush
Fiji Fantastic sheep grazing improved pastures of Koronivia grass and Leucaena in Western Fiji. Photo: University of New England

The aim of the ACIAR-supported project is to help smallholders improve their productivity and supply more animals into domestic markets, more profitably. Creating a nationally branded sheep meat for premium markets is a longer-term goal for the industry.

Farm record-keeping is a high priority for the project, to gather both baseline data on industry productivity and to help smallholders better evaluate their businesses.

Small groups of farmers in Fiji and Samoa are taking part in hands-on training, as well as cost-of-production and record-keeping trials for the project. Field officers visit monthly to collect data from project books recording herd and flock productivity details such as births and birth weight, animal deaths, sales and expenses.

Farmers are testing supplementary feeding or ‘creep feeding’ strategies for young livestock using a simple fence or enclosure with small gaps, and additional food in the centre that only young animals can reach.

Each farm has also been provided with hanging scales to monitor the growth rates of their animals, along with drenches, and field staff regularly monitor the worm burden in animals.

‘Building relationships and working closely with the smallholder farmers and their families has also revealed the significant involvement of women in raising livestock and making commercial decisions,’ said Dr Silva.

‘Our project training activities actively encourage women to take part, and they are highly engaged, particularly around animal nutrition and rearing practices.’

In addition to the traditional challenges, smallholders in Fiji and Samoa face threats from dogs, with up to 30% of animal deaths attributed to dog attacks. One farmer taking part in the program also realised he had lost 30% of his animals to theft. The project is now considering options to address this issue.

Drench research

Research into the level of internal parasites in animals and potential drench-resistance in Fiji has been a key part of the project, responding to concerns raised in a previous ACIAR-supported project that identified a high worm burden in both sheep and goats.

Dr Silva said trials with commercial farms showed the problem was not as severe as feared. However, sampling of farms across the country shows a high incidence of worms, suggesting a discrepancy between actual and reported drenching practices.

Drenching is also integrated into the smallholder research activity, which aims to quantify any production losses caused by worms in sheep and goat farms. Mrs Alice Baleiverata is a field officer for the project in the western region of Fiji and said the farmers she works with have been impressed with the effects of drenches trialled with pregnant does.

‘The farmers have noticed that the babies are stronger at birth, and their growth rates are really fast. They’ve seen an improvement in weight gain for the kids and the mothers,’ said Mrs Baleiverata.

Supported by results similar to these, cost-of-production assessments for smallholders are helping to identify the benefits in growth and return from sales that justify the expense and effort of regular drenching and monitoring of worms.

Government staff are key to project implementation, which includes training for staff at the Ministry of Agriculture and Waterways in Fiji and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Samoa to strengthen in-country livestock extension services.

Both countries have government livestock breeding and research centres that are supporting the project with drench, feeding and pasture trials.

ACIAR Research Program Manager, Livestock, Dr Anna Okello said improved productivity will help build domestic supply in Fiji and Samoa. There is also a potential opportunity for supplying premium agritourism markets with national – rather than imported – products, particularly with the continued investment in infrastructure such as transport and abattoirs.

Dr Okello highlighted this project as part of the growing ACIAR investment into small ruminants.

‘Small ruminants are often overlooked in research, particularly when compared to that of the cattle industry, although sheep and goats are crucial to the food security and income for some of the world’s most vulnerable people,’ said Dr Okello. ‘They provide livelihoods for women, in particular, and for landless people, who can often use unimproved pastures and urban areas to graze their animals.’

The 5-year project in Fiji and Samoa is expected to conclude in June 2024, while a 3.5-year project on goat production in the Sindh and Punjab regions of Pakistan ended last year. Another 5-year project looking at goat production in Laos and Vietnam will end later this year.

Dr Okello said all of these projects are providing valuable data that will support further development of the small ruminant sectors in ACIAR partner countries. To improve productivity and incomes, benchmarking animal health, feeding strategies, regular weighing of animals and record-keeping are common elements in the projects.

Opportunities for smallholders in Pakistan

In Pakistan, smallholders form the backbone of national sheep and goat production, with extensive networks of buyers in the domestic market including traditional markets and the rapidly developing supermarket sector. There are also export opportunities across the Middle East, particularly for Muslim Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr festivals each year.

Associate Professor Angus Campbell at The University of Melbourne, who led the Pakistan project in collaboration with the University of Lahore, said the activities with smallholders included introducing creep feeding strategies, monitoring animal growth and sale weights, and learning to assess the body condition of animals.

This gave smallholders additional information to use when negotiating with traders, with up to 80% of project participants reporting higher prices for their goats. The live weight value of animals increased 5–10%, although some individual farmers received 2–3 times the typical prices.

While all 3 of the small ruminant research projects are investigating market options, Dr Okello highlighted the export potential of animals as an exciting opportunity, particularly for Pakistan’s smallholder producers.

Building on the recently completed project in the Sindh and Punjab regions, ACIAR is commissioning a new project in 2024 with the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, which aims to build on the achievements of small ruminant research in Pakistan and Ethiopia targeting markets in the Middle East.

ACIAR PROJECT: ‘Enhancing small ruminant production to benefit farming families in Sindh and Punjab, Pakistan’ (LS/2018/105); ‘Improving small ruminant production and supply in Fiji and Samoa’ (LS/2017/033); ‘Goat production systems and marketing in Lao PDR and Vietnam’ (LS/2017/034)

Three women looking at an information factsheet
The project team in Sindh, Pakistan, discussing pictorial fact sheets with female farmers. Photo: The University of Melbourne